Of the many stories that have revolted me with respect to super film producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual harassment, one that bothered me a lot was my favorite NPR show Marketplace’s recounting of how Hollywood talent agencies routinely sent attractive young actresses to meet with Weinstein for years, knowing full well what his reputation was. The idea that for years my favorite industry in California would treat the young hopefuls arriving in my favorite city trying to be famous (as I did) like lambs ripe for slaughter disgusts me in ways I can’t possibly describe. One of my favorite things that happened in California though was that I’ve become a bit of a feminist within the last year or two, and in that spirit, anything that harms women always shakes me up. This one in particular reminds me too much of the way my mother was married off to my boorish oaf of a father in the name of religious and cultural duty. The talent agents in question were motivated by staying on then well-regarded Weinstein’s good side, so like common pimps, they sent him women and the entertainment industry looked the other way. Boggles the mind.
Marketplace joins a chorus of people asking how this could happen. This morning I was reminded of the answer. Anybody who knows me well knows that I am a huge fan of KTLA in Los Angeles, the news station that had my donor and I on following my kidney transplant so we could help raise money for Lupus LA. When I was earning my paralegal certificate, I became friendly with one of their morning anchors via Twitter, and he even met me when I visited Los Angeles, making me a die-hard KTLA viewer. KTLA covered the Weinstein story extensively, in no small part I’m sure because it was playing out practically in their back yard. Yet in spite of all that, KTLA’s notoriously foot-in-mouth weather man Henry DiCarlo decided to drool over Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander’s model fiancee Kate Upton, and as usual, everybody let it slide.
Here’s the thing: do I seriously think Henry DiCarlo is a sleaze and would-be rapist? No. What I think however, is that by letting this kind of thing go on, KTLA normalizes “guy talk,” which I believe is a slippery slope to normalizing deviant, and even criminal behavior. I know he’s not the first, but I’d like to use this entry to explain why I doubt he’ll be the last at this rate, because I believe we have come to let this kind of misogynistic behavior slide, to the point that men don’t even know what the true definition of rape is. And I think that’s asking for trouble.
Remember what our President Donald Trump’s explanation for bragging about being able to grab women’s crotches due to his fame was? He called it “locker room talk.” I believe that as long as we use “boys will be boys” explanations for what is ultimately abusive behavior, we minimize and start accepting it. How many times have rapists used “she led me on” as an excuse for having committed the act? How many times have women internalized and blamed themselves for having been assaulted? A friend of mine was raped, and told me that afterwards she “never should have said [her attacker] was cute.” Does calling a man cute warrant violence against her?
As I said, I’m new to feminism, but for those of you still uninitiated, here are some basic rules for guys and others that I’ve learned from mainstream feminists that has served me well thus far:
1 – Never comment on a woman’s appearance unless you have a relationship with her, in which case comment more, and favorably. This one not only has kept me out or trouble, but has worked surprisingly well in other ways. I have found that we as men get shaken up, even fearful when we find ourselves sexually attracted to someone, causing us to make conversational flubs, at best making us look stupid, and at worst, creeping the girl out. I have found however that if I can turn this emotional response into an intellectual one, wracking my brain to find something to talk to the girl in question about that has nothing to do with her appearance, it forces me to listen as well as look. If she’s wearing a uniform of some kind, I can strike up a conversation about that, or if I like her earrings or some clothing item, I can compliment her on that safely. If she responds, I have to listen to her response to continue the conversation, and in doing so she might like me back, or I may just realize we have nothing in common or she’s otherwise not worth my time. Either way, the focus stays on who she is, not what she looks like, and nobody gets hurt.
2 – Sex is only consensual if both parties are actively giving consent. This is where I feel many people fail in the definition of rape. If one starts having sex and the other person lets it slide, that’s rape. If one person changes their mind in the process of intimacy, it’s again rape. If it’s a quid pro quo situation, where she has sex in exchange for something, that’s rape too. This means that a “pity screw” (trying to keep it clean here) is also technically rape, as are many scenes in adult films if the girl never actually gives consent. This also means no implied consent, no “she led me on,” no “she was asking for it – look at the way she’s dressed!” Women’s appearance does not equal consent. She has to clearly give it.
3 – She does not know you or the thought process going on in your head. This I learned from the feminist critic Arthur Chu. I have found that many socially awkward men pine obsessively about some particular girl, get up the courage to approach her, don’t get the response they want, and then turn into misogynists, because they somehow believe there’s a pattern of injustice and rejection against them. The thing is, in life people don’t know what’s going on in your head, and the woman who rejects a guy today usually has nothing to do with the other women who’ve failed to accept him in the past. Treating women according to a process that exists entirely in one’s own head is not only unfair but unrealistic. If she doesn’t know you, she doesn’t know what you’ve been through, and thus couldn’t even possibly be sympathetic if she normally would, and thus undeserving of your mistreatment.
4 – Violence against women will hurt not just her, but any children a man might have. I am living proof. My father’s abuse of my mother left me emotionally stunted, and no matter how hard I try, I often feel like I will never overcome that. My self-esteem is irrationally low, and my many achievements have thus never made me into the person I feel I should be. The good news is that it has given me the ability to be self-critical (to a fault, but I’m working on that), something I find that many men lack, and thus can’t deal with all of the above.
5 – “Pick Up” and “Pick Up Artists” don’t have the answers, because they ignore the fact that women have agency. I will confess, after breaking up with my first serious girlfriend, I tried my hand at being a “Pick Up Artist,” one of those sleazy guys who think they can seduce women, as described in Neil Strauss’s (still) classic semi-autobiographical book The Game. Pick Up, and its accompanying “Seduction Community” remain popular I think because as one honest pick-up artist put it to me, “guys want sex so badly, but the only thing standing between them and it is the girl.” As a result, I’ve found that gullible men spend thousands of dollars trying to teach themselves how to say and do all the right things to get women into bed, not realizing that they could do everything exactly as the rules of Pick Up dictate and she could still say no, or do everything incorrectly and still succeed just because the girl likes him. At best, I believe Pick Up can give men the confidence to talk to more women the way Dumbo‘s “magic feather” convinced him he could fly. At worst, I fear it could get them close, but in frustration based on #3 (because let’s face it, knowing and using learned and canned techniques is a totally individualistic mental process) turn them into rapists. As long as women have agency, I have found that there is no “magic bullet” to romance (and if your answer to that is, “that’s just because you failed to get it right,” I’ll add that in my experience, things that require circular justifications – like pyramid schemes – are inherently flawed). I believe the most Pick Up can do for you is just facilitate your trial-and-error process, and I’ve found that you don’t need a guide to do that.
After Uber’s issues, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and now Harvey Weinstein, I think it’s pretty clear that women fed up with being second class citizens in this country are not going to let it slide anymore. Why should anybody care, besides the obvious? In the Middle East, people got sick of letting it slide years ago, and gave us the Arab Spring. For many, that meant a chance to make real and lasting positive change by any means necessary. For people like Muammar Gaddafi? Not so much.